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Russia, US on Familiar Ground in Peace Capital Geneva

FILE - An aerial view from the 'Parc La Grange' of the Geneva landscape with the Jet d'Eau fountain on Lake Geneva, Sept. 14, 2019.

Geneva, dubbed the capital of peace, is a favored spot for meetings between the two great post-World War II powers and once again hosts talks between Russia and the United States on Monday.

The tranquil Swiss city held the 1985 summit between US president Ronald Reagan and his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev.

Geneva also staged last June's talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden.

FILE - US President Joe Biden and Russia's President Vladimir Putin meet at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021.
FILE - US President Joe Biden and Russia's President Vladimir Putin meet at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021.

On Monday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and her Russian opposite number, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, will hold much-anticipated discussions on European security and the Ukraine conflict.

Neutral territory

Geneva not only hosts the United Nations — having been the seat of its League of Nations predecessor — and several U.N. agencies; the French-speaking city is also home to the Red Cross and dozens of other international organizations.

Former Swiss president Guy Parmelin called it the "city of peace" at the Biden-Putin summit last year, showing the Alpine nation could play a role in international relations even during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the heart of Europe, Switzerland is known for its centuries of neutrality and was never part of the NATO and Warsaw Pact Cold War blocs that divided the continent following World War II.

Indeed, the talks between Reagan and Gorbachev played an important role in thawing the Cold War ice.

Spooks and experts

In 2009 and 2010 in Geneva, Russia and the United States negotiated the New START treaty on reducing their nuclear arsenals.

The city is home to the U.N.-linked Conference on Disarmament -- the only such forum thrashing out arms control and disarmament agreements -- and Geneva is therefore brimming with experts in such negotiations.

The city overlooked by Mont Blanc has hosted several meetings between the US and Russian foreign ministers, such as the 2009 summit between Sergei Lavrov and Hillary Clinton.

She offered him a plastic "reset button" to symbolize the revival of relations.

Lavrov and Clinton's successor John Kerry also met several times for talks in the Calvinist city, on topics such as Syria and Ukraine.

The Russians and Americans, who have large diplomatic representations and a considerable intelligence presence in Geneva, have also organized several meetings there on Syria in recent years.

Since the Biden-Putin summit, Sherman and Ryabkov have held a series of follow-up meetings in Geneva to continue the strategic dialogue and smooth out disputes between Washington and Moscow.

The pair met for the first time at the U.S. mission on July 28 before meeting again at the Russian complex on September 30.

Discretion and security

The two missions are a few hundred meters apart, close to the U.N.'s Palais des Nations headquarters.

As ever, the area will be under high security on Monday.

Switzerland, and Geneva in particular, is appreciated by diplomats of all stripes for its flexibility and discretion as a host state, as well as for the security it offers.

Such conditions saw the city host talks in the 1990s on the Bosnian civil war, the 2013 Geneva interim agreement on Iran's nuclear program and, more recently, on the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya.